In an increasingly technological world, it has become substantially easier for individuals to manage their own healthcare. Through the use of a computer and the Internet, people can go online to gather information on their diagnosis, peruse potential treatment options, find doctors and healthcare centers that specialize in the treatment of illnesses, and even look up directions and routes on how to get to the doctors and healthcare centers, whether by driving or taking public transportation.
Now imagine that you have received a diagnosis for a new chronic condition and wish to receive the best of care; however, imagine now that you are an 80-year-old person living in an assisted living community..
...and now imagine that you have never used a computer before. What may have been easy for most can be difficult or nearly impossible for an older adult with little to no computer experience. Without technology knowledge and skills, older adults cannot gather information and communicate the same way as others can, which can be a huge issue in a technology-based reality.
The goal of this book is to help others understand the complexities and the best practices in training older adults in continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) to use information and communication technologies (ICTs). Much of our experience comes from our 5-year longitudinal study on the impacts of ICTs on the quality of life of older adults in CCRCs. In this project, we trained several hundred older adults living in CCRCs in how to use ICTs. We learned a lot from going through this project, with much of it related to the intricacies of working in CCRCs, specifics of the older adult population in CCRCs, and the importance and specifics of tailoring training for this group.
In the United States, it is expected that more than 10,000 people will turn 65 years of age each day for the next 20 years. As people age, they often relocate to be closer to family or to receive more help with their daily tasks. CCRCs are gaining in popularity and are expected to continue to be communities of care for specific populations of older adults in the foreseeable future. When older adults relocate, they are removed from their social networks, which can include family, close friends, neighbors, and group members (such as through church membership or a recreational club or league). Although the older adults may still interact with people in their established networks, often the form of interaction changes, and they are met with increasing difficulty in maintaining these connections—connections that are vital for health and well-being. As this population grows, technology may be one avenue that can be used to help mitigate some of these negative effects.
Technology is an important tool that has been incorporated into nearly every facet of our daily lives. A majority of people in the United States own or at least have access to an Internet-connected computer or laptop and use these devices frequently. You would also be hard pressed to walk along a given street and not see at least a few people tinkering away on their smartphones, whether making a phone call, checking email, surfing the Web, or playing with an app. Being a part of the twenty- first century mandates that we are all proficient users of technology. It is not simply for our jobs; it is a way of life. However, older adults are less likely to use ICTs and may feel disenfranchised from a society in which technology is so important and so ingrained. Not using ICTs limits not only their contact with others but also access to resources, including information that may be vital to their healthcare and well-being. That puts the nonuser at a disadvantage in almost every aspect of life: social, financial, and educational. It also limits the nonuser's ability to fully participate in everyday life and enjoy the benefits that are associated with using ICTs.
This book describes best practices for conducting ICT training in CCRCs. Educating the current CCRC population on ICTs can help address many negative influences on quality of life. This is a targeted group for training and thus the classes and training procedures should be tailored to address older adult populations. Through this experience, we learned how to enable participants to overcome various social and spatial barriers that they encountered, how to address physical challenges that were unique to certain participants, and the value of constant reinforcement of their technology use. An ongoing challenge was tailoring the training to each group. There is no "one size fits all" for this training, although we present best practices that facilitate training and design. What works with one group may need to be tweaked with the next, and what works with one program one way probably will change with the next technology software or hardware update. Being cognizant of these issues will help those who seek to assist older adults in crossing the digital divide from nonuser to successful ICT user.
Throughout our experience, we learned a tremendous amount not only about pedagogical processes but also about the everyday lives of the older adults we were training. We learned about their fears of being left out of society, left behind in this technological age, and being limited in their ability to physically connect with people and places. Although many of these individuals will never use technology in the ways you or I do, their enjoyment through the process was palpable. It was more than learning how to open an email or search for information online; the experience was also about learning the lingo and belonging to the tech-grounded society of their children and grandchildren. They taught us something too: how to persevere as instructors, and that, as one participant remarked to us, "You can teach an old dog new tricks." One day we will all be "old dogs," faced with the daunting process of learning the newest technology. It is our hope we face this challenge with the grace and humor of many of our participants.